This article is about the difference between perception and reality, between what you think about the US market and what the US market thinks about you.
In other words, we are having a conversation about the reasons why Americans might hesitate to buy your product, even if it is clearly a superior one. It is about what needs to be done to bring them over the edge, and get them to sign an order, a distribution agreement, or a letter of intent.
The American market is abundantly supplied by US and established foreign producers, offering just about everything: quality, diversity, service, information and competitive prices.
Because of its size and high degree of sophistication and standardization, the US market attracts newcomers, American and foreigners, every day.
In other words, it is not an easy market to penetrate.
Thankfully, Europeans usually offer products with a great value proposition; products they think will be hard for Americans to resist.
This may be true, but a great value proposition doesn’t tell the whole story.
Americans are often labeled as chauvinistic when they appear to prefer “Made in USA” products rather than the “superior solution” Europeans are offering.
In reality, US potential partners and customers are usually open to foreign-made products, as long as they can get something substantial (money, status…) out of them. Their first question will be: What’s in it for me?
But if this first question is easy to answer (great value proposition!), it is immediately followed by a number of worries, questions that may not be expressed, and boil down to trust. To his colleagues, your American contact may be saying something like: “Their product looks great, but can we trust these guys?”
Let’s go over a few of these worries.
How long have they been doing business in this country?
Even if you export to 50 different countries from Lithuania to Malaysia, what your US partners are really concerned with is the South, or MidWest, or whichever region the market is. Worries: What is their local presence? Do they have US references? What have they already achieved in the US? Do they know the competition? Are they member of our industry association?
How important is the US market for them?
This question really means: How long will they stay here? No one likes to invest time and resources in a project that might be abandoned as soon as the Euro starts climbing again. If they have a feeling that you are over-optimistic or unprepared, they might worry about the unpleasant surprises you will face. Worries: How much funding have they set aside to sustain their market entry? What is their expected pay-back period? Who will manage the US operation? How profitable could their US operation be? How much personnel are they hiring?
Where is their US operation located?
Even when your market penetration strategy is based on a well-structured agreement with a US distributor, the frequency of your presence in the United States will often be critical to your success. European mid-sized companies have a tendency to be understaffed, especially the successful fast-growing ones. Travel time to, from and inside the USA takes a toll on overworked management. Worries: Who will take care of sales rep training and motivation programs? How and when will they visit our 178 points of sale? Will they attend our quarterly meetings? Who will prepare the next trade fair?
What are their marketing tools?
Even if English language literature is available, it may have to be put to the test. US terminology and spelling are considerably different from anything you have seen in Europe. Americans are not used to brochures in three different languages, and regular references to European standards or units will raise eyebrows. Poor English syntax or literal translations from a European idiom will make Americans smile, but are not conducive to a strong relationship. Worries: What do they mean with “spanner” and “gearbox”? Will they start using a US marketing agent? How good is their website SEO? Do they have a speaker for the upcoming conference?
Their technology looks great. How about their after-sales service?
Americans will hardly be reassured when told that “our technicians speak English”. They want to know where the service team is located, how long it will take them to fix a breakdown or replace critical parts. Your US partners don’t want to call and leave a voice message to a recorder located 6 or 9 time zones away. Worries: How many technicians do they have on the east coast? How were they trained? Do they also work for other companies? Where do they store spare parts?
Finally, the entire trust issue also depends on whether a bond is created between you and your American partner, between your people and theirs. This is chemistry. Inviting them to visit your company in Europe, or spending time visiting their offices and plant will go a long way.
All the above worries will have to be addressed, whether they have been expressed or not.
A market analysis, strategy, marketing and financial plan professionally prepared by US-based COGNEGY is likely to inspire the confidence that your US partners are seeking. You will have all the solutions ready to answer their worries. This is what we have done for over 30 mid-sized European companies in the last 30 months.
After all, if your company has spent decades to develop, produce and market great products all over the world, it would be a shame to stumble on America’s shores because of worries that have little to do with these products.